Wine is an essential element of the Italian meal and Mediterranean diet. The nature of the Italian peninsula with the influence of Mediterranean sunshine and mountain air currents on the hillsides favors a spontaneous culture of wine. "It has been an element of civilization for ages in Italy and other European countries, one of the most sacred symbols in the Roman Catholic religion, a daily staple for dynasties of kings as well as generations of peasants... wine is as much a part of Italian culture is Pasta" (www.italianmade.com).
Italy's wine heritage dates back some 4,000 years to when prehistoric peoples pressed wild grapes into juice that fermented into wine. "The ancient Greeks, expanding into Italy's southern reaches called the colonies Oenotria, the land of wine. Etruscans were subtle and serene practitioners of the art of winemaking in the hills of central Italy, as attested by the art and artifacts left in their spacious tombs.
The Romans developed a flourishing trade in wine throughout the Mediterranean lands and beyond. So sophisticated was their knowledge of viticulture and enology that their techniques were not equaled again until the 17th or 18th centuries, when Italians and other Europeans began to regard the making of wine as science rather than mystique." (www.italianmade.com).
Winemaking in Italy advanced rapidly through the 19th century, as methods of vinification and aging were improved and the use of corks to seal reinforced bottles and flasks permitted orderly shipping of wine worldwide. Such names as Chianti, Barolo and Marsala became known in Europe and beyond. "Through the hard times of wars and depression, Italy became one of the world's leading purveyors of low cost wine, often sold in containers of outlandish shapes and sizes. Though such practices were profitable for some, they did little for the image of Italian wine...